Official Blog of the Education Exchange Corps

Monday, June 15, 2015

(Nukes, Rocketships, and Nation Building) + Kids = ? (Or How We Made Our Leadership Game, Part III)

ON THE FIRST DAY, the children shall lead.

We've already posted about the physical design of the leadership game and the beginning of the first day of the game.
Now for the rest of the game play.

We last left you with four councils of kids, grouped by age, running four different countries. Some may have formed governments. Others may not be sure what to do. Either choice is fine in this game of learning and experimentation.

But now, no matter how ready the young leaders are, it's time for the first Global Challenge.

The first challenge is Nation Building. The young leaders will have 70 minutes to build schools, infrastructure, a transportation network, hospitals, and a military. At the same time, they will have opportunities to meet their international counterparts at different gatherings hosted by our high school students. The first discussions of trade will occur at this juncture.

Seventy minutes may sound like a lot of time, but it will blow by quite quickly. During this time, our young leaders will:
  • determine how to make decisions within each country
  • learn how to budget
  • set an education budget
  • set an infrastructure budget
  • set a healthcare budget
  • raise an army, air force, and navy
  • negotiate with other countries
  • establish trade deals and trade routes
  • measure possible troop movement using their maps and tape measures
  • consider national tax policy
  • draft and discuss their decisions
  • submit their national decisions before time runs out.
If a country does not submit their decisions on time, they will have forfeited their turn. Consider that our analog to a congressional-gridlock-created government shutdown.

Once the national decisions are in hand, the Keepers of the Board (our wonderful high school students!) will move pieces on the board to reflect what each country has done. Every young leader watches.

Having seen the results of their choices, each students goes to their notebook and reflects upon the experience.

Then it's time to go home.

Each day - with exceptions for Fridays and some other special events - will proceed by our Daily Schedule!

The Daily Schedule

Breakfast (Program to 9:30)
Morning Debriefing
Global Challenge and Domestic Demands
Challenge Training
Challenge Research
Country Time
Global Time
Challenge Questions
Challenge Questions
Global Time + Country Time + Decisions
Journal Reflections

Each morning, after receiving updates from the high school students running the international organizations, our young leaders will meet with a new Global Challenge. Every country will hear of the Global Challenge. But each country will also receive a Domestic Demand, known only to the country the Demand affects.
These Domestic Demands are not dissimilar to Global Challenges. Their effects are usually more locally-centered, but they may not stay that way. The leaders can choose to share the details of their Domestic Demands with others, or they may keep them secret.

Because of the secretive nature of these demands, we cannot reveal them to you. But we will tell you they'll challenge students on multiple levels.

We also can't reveal too many details about the Global Challenges, but we can give you the categories!
Here is the tentative schedule of Global Challenges our young leaders will face:

The Global Challenges
Nation Building
Global Warming
Space Race
Water Scarcity
Nuclear Proliferation
Spiraling Satellite
Small Pox
Science Expo
Computer Virus
Solar Flare
Ozone Depletion
World’s Fair

On some of these days, we will have Special Guests come and present a Global Challenge and then visit each country as the leaders wrestle with what to do.

Each day, our volunteers will facilitate the interactions within and between countries. They will serve as advisers. They will help train our youngest leaders through more directed instruction, and they will assist our older leaders through guided research. They are the folks who make this game work and who make sure our kids have a great time.
Without them, our game is just a piece of paper sandwiched between some metal and plastic.
With them, our game becomes a world of learning.

And so our kids learn. We will have some instructional periods, but almost all of the learning happens during student-to-student interactions.

We believe school should be a place where students are encouraged to take responsibility, where teachers feel free to be creative. School should be a place where students can fail and then grow from their mistakes.

That's why we've created this elaborate world: So kids can learn how to run theirs.

Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Yesterday was the first time I ever had to bail a student out of jail.

Yesterday was the first time I ever had to bail a student out of jail.

I got one of those phone calls on my cell phone – the kind asking me if I will accept it after hearing the name of the caller. I do a lot of prisoner complaint cases, and at first I wondered how a prisoner got hold of my number. But when the name of the caller came across the line, my stomach started doing that unpleasant thing.

I pressed “5” to accept the call. I got out a notebook to take notes. I assumed this would be the last time I talked to my student before I could find a way to get him out (you only get one call, the TV told me), so I tried to be detailed. But I felt limited by the warning message at the beginning of the call telling me that everything would be recorded. I didn’t want my student to incriminate himself. So the call was brief.

My student had been at the county jail overnight. He said he would be transferred to the city jail that day – Friday – and was told he would be staying there over the weekend and perhaps even later into the week because he didn’t have the money to post bail. He was not looking forward to an extended stay. He told me he had been jailed because he had an old charge for riding the MetroLink without a ticket.

I told him I’d look into it. I hung up and called the jail holding my student. The lady there was very helpful, and she verified my student’s story: He was being held for failing to pay a MetroLink ticket. He had two old ones – one in the county, and one in the city. Because of his stay in the jail, his debt to the county was considered fulfilled. But he still owed the city time in jail, so the county would transfer him there later that day. I was told bail was $150, with an additional $20 processing fee.

I drove to the county jail where I promptly got into the wrong line in front of a visitors’ desk positioned right as you get past the metal detectors. A lady in front of me asked me if I was a lawyer. I said yes, at which point she started asking me a very long story-question about whether the government was punishing her as a whistleblower. The line was moving slowly, but thankfully fast enough so that at the end of the story I didn’t have to reveal that I was one of the government lawyers she was so upset about. Instead, we wished each other a nice day.

Like I said, the visitors’ desk was the wrong one. The officer in charge directed me to the end of the hallway to the bail window. I knew from my phone call with the jail that I had to bring cash. I told the officer there who I was looking for. She had to get permission from the city to let him out on bail. After she did, I signed some paperwork and forked over the money.

(This is also when I found out that, at the county jail, inmates are not limited to one call. My student called me maybe five times.)

I asked her how long it will take to get him out. She said it could be “awhile.” As I wandered a bit in the hallway, I asked one of the staff members at the visitors’ desk how long it would take. He said, “Today’s Friday, so probably two to four hours.” I asked if I could leave a note. He said maybe with the lady at the bail window, and he was right. I left my phone number and a place to go if my student needed a phone. I drove back to work.

When I got off the highway downtown, I got a call. My student was free just 20 minutes after I had posted bail.

I turned around, picked him up, and brought him with me. I asked about his life story – I hadn’t seen him in maybe half a year. In just that short time, my student had left the state on a bus, became a homeless but successful street performer, came back home, graduated high school, and was on his way to college at the end of the summer. He was looking for a job, applying to many places, but no one was willing to hire him, maybe because he could not commit to work long-term.

His housing situation is uncertain. He doesn’t have many clothes, and his increasingly dire situation led to some trouble with the police. Not trouble enough to land him in jail. He was in jail solely because of the MetroLink tickets.

He spent a night in jail and was threatened with another several days there because he twice could not pay the $3 admissions fee to ride the rails.

I gave him some money to get food. He hung out for a bit while I worked. As a teacher, I kind of know when a kid is starting to get bored, so I gave him a book on setting up classrooms for differentiated learning and asked for his opinion on a section in chapter 4. He read it within minutes and told me it didn’t make sense. He thought the author’s proposals for dividing children based on ability created a segregated environment and negated the possibility of students with different skill levels helping each other. He thought that creating divisions leads to less cohesiveness, decreased individualism, and a worrisome propensity for “groupthink.” (I am not prettying up his words at all, in case you are wondering.) He reminded me of a principal I once worked with. I thought one day he might grow up to be like her.

I gave him the rest of the cash I took out to pay his bail and jokingly told him to use it for the Metro. He was meeting his girlfriend downtown and, at some point, he disappeared. He doesn’t have a phone, so I’m not sure when I’ll see him again.

This young man, full of promise and intelligence and emotion, feeling manipulated and unappreciated and undervalued, has to find a way to survive for two months so he can make it to college. Instead of getting help, he got jail. He is barely toeing the line between the chance for enormous success and falling into a depressing cycle of poverty. But it seems that poverty is the only one of these two options pulling him toward it, with claws that always drag at those who would try to break away.

This is where we are today in America.

Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Summer of Kid Power

This summer, kids are taking over St. Louis.

Project One: Summer Leadership Academy
First, we're really excited for our Summer Leadership Academy. We were unable to hold our program for the first time in our organization's history last summer. But we worked hard this past year and found some amazing partners to help us hold our academy in Hyde Park yet again. Our program will put young leaders as the heads of countries in an immersive simulation, during which they will have to deal with global crises, domestic demands, and the plots of other countries in their world.

Today, I took a lunch break to visit Hyde Park and find ways to get more kids to our program (we're halfway to our goal of 60!). We have call lists from past years, but many families move, and phone numbers change. That hasn't stopped us so far. Just today, I walked into a cafe to see two of our kids reading and playing video games. I showed them a picture of our board game. They're in!

Every day feels like a scene out of the Blues Brothers: We're getting the band back together.

If you're interested in volunteering, presenting on a topic of specialty to our students, or looking for ways to give more children in St. Louis better opportunities, email me. Right now.

Project Two: Hack4Hope Hackathon
Second, we're proud to partner with so many organizations and a great core of dedicated souls to put on St. Louis's first Hack4Hope Hackathon.
During the weekend of July 10 - 12, teenagers will be immersed in technology and business. They will meet local professionals offering mentorship, learn a bit about coding and business development, and pitch a concept to a panel of judges. Students will continue to build upon their ideas through the Hack4Hope Academy, a continuing educational and mentorship program that is slated to take place over six months.

We've got some great partners on board, and we're looking for more. If you or your company is willing to sponsor the Hackathon, offer volunteers, or find other ways to collaborate, send me a message!

Together, we really can do a lot for our kids. Let us help you find a way for you to fit in.

Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps

Sunday, June 7, 2015

If Kids Rule the World, That Doesn't Mean They're Driving, Right? (Or How We Made Our Leadership Game) Part II

So far, we've talked about how to build the physical parts of the game. Now: How the game works.

On the first day, our young leaders will assemble in the cafeteria. Sitting on a table in the middle of the vast room will be the game board, covered by a sheet.

Why covered? Because humans of all ages are intrigued by mystery and surprise.

First, we introduce the adults to the young leaders. Then, we reveal the board.

Artist's rendering of excited children looking at the board.
Thanks Anat!
Behold the game board!
(Like Babe Ruth calling his shot, I'm calling these reactions: "Whoa!" "I have one of these at home!" "That's not Earth...." "Yes it is!")

Everybody can touch the board now, but this will be the last time anyone and everyone can touch it.

Why touch it at all? Kids like touching things. Nothing we can do to help that.

Then, to foreshadow what will happen with this board, we drop a magnetic piece onto it and, by the power of physics, it stands straight up.

"WOW!" "COOL!" "Can I try!?" "Give me that!"

We'll do our best to stop everyone in between the latter two exclamations. Only moments ago, we announced the no-touching rule, but it takes many repetitions to teach a new habit. Now is the time to harness the excitement of something new. Leeway is granted.

We point out the four landmasses that are home to the world's major powers. And then it's time to divide.

Our leaders will be divided into four groups. These groups will be based on age. So we will have a country of 5-6-year-olds, 7-8-year-olds, 9-11-year-olds, and 12-17-year-olds. They will meet each other, meet their advisers (our fantastic volunteer instructors!), and immediately set about creating their world.

This first day is essential; first impressions are big. If you falter early on, you lose the crowd, and it's hard to get the audience back on your side. Kids feed off energy. This first moment must be full of excitement and adventure, and the leaders must start to get acquainted with the prospect that decisions in this world - their world - will be made by them.

So we'll start them off on this path of independence. We'll have a discussion about how to interact with each other. The words "respect" and "fair" will come up a lot.
(Side note: We might write more about this topic later, but, although we all understand the importance of respect, this was personally the most troubling part of the game for me. We spent so much time designing a simulation for kids to find their own way, to learn the most effective way to act and behave based on their interactions with others. Demanding that our participants treat each other respectfully takes some of the freedom out of the simulation.
But, we need to balance total freedom with the instructional purpose. We think that balance can be achieved through a conversation with students because they'll still be generating the ideas and underlying moral framework. In the end, many of the hardest decisions we made involved a balance between freedom and instruction.)

During our first run, the four countries were Samistonia,
Yadistan, Greybourg, and Hyrule.
Each country will then receive randomly-assigned attributes. The first attribute will be geographic placement. Although the map is set, which landmass a particular group of leaders will reside on is not.

The second attribute will be population. The smallest country will have 20 million residents. The largest will have 800 million.

The third attribute will be GDP. GDP will range from $20 billion to $400 billion. We're using a common currency because OH MY GOODNESS THIS IS CRAZY ENOUGH!
The governments will initially start out with a tax rate of 50% of overall GDP. So, effectively, countries will be able to spend $10 billion to $200 billion depending on their assigned GDP. Governments can change their tax rates, but such decisions will come with consequences (more on that later).

Finally, each country will receive randomly assigned resources. These resources are used during the course of the game and can be traded between countries.

The leaders will then work within their countries to come up with country names, national stories, and a unifying culture. They'll introduce their countries to the world. They'll have a chance to meet other leaders from other countries at a series of international meetings hosted by our international organizations.

Here's another wrinkle: The international organizations will be run by some of our high school students. More on that later too!

At the end of this period of harmony and collaboration, we will introduce the world to its first global challenge, and the leaders will have only 70 minutes to come up with a plan.

Tune in to Part III where we reveal the global challenges, domestic demands, and our daily schedule!

Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Summer Food Program Coming to Hyde Park

The Education Exchange Corps will be partnering with the St. Louis City Department of Human Services to provide free breakfasts and lunches to kids in Hyde Park.

Each year, many kids depend on the City's Summer Food Program for a reliable meal. Unfortunately, many kids in the United States live under the burden of poverty. Just in the last couple of years, we have reached the point where the majority of kids in public schools are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

This epidemic does not end when the school bell rings. And it doesn't take a break over summer vacation. Children still need food.

In the Hyde Park neighborhood, we worked with Clay Elementary of the St. Louis Public Schools for years. Now that Clay Elementary is closed during the summer months, Most Holy Trinity Catholic School and Academy graciously agreed to host our summer program.

In both schools, 100% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Every single child.

Kids shouldn't be denied an education. They shouldn't be allowed to languish over the summer months, left without access to some stimulating activity that can prevent academic skill loss during their break. And on top of everything else going on in their lives, they shouldn't have to go hungry too.

I was happy to see so many folks packed into the Wohl Rec Center gym today to receive training on how to participate in the Summer Food Program. Their efforts will make sure that thousands of kids will have access to meals. We're excited to put up our yard sign in Hyde Park come July 6.

Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

If Kids Rule the World, That Doesn't Mean They're Driving, Right? (Or How We Made Our Leadership Game) Part I

This summer, kids will rule the world!

They will do it from an underground fortress of solitude that looks a lot like a church cafeteria. Satellite imagery, updating in real-time, will look a lot like a flat piece of paper with some plastic on top. And whatever happens will look a lot like fun, because (drum rolls now if you haven't started already) it is fun!

This post describes the physical and visual presentation of our Summer Leadership Academy: the game board. Our next posts will discuss how the game works and what volunteers do. And then, if we've got enough sugar lying around, we'll write about the challenges we faced and our herculean efforts to overcome them.

Any-who, BEHOLD! The Setting!

OK, so now it might look more like a pretty big cafeteria in a church, but allow your imagination to fill the gargantuan space! In each corner huddles a group of a country's greatest leaders, trying to guide their people through an uncertain world. The columns are decorated in different colors to signify who may caucus where. Flags and artwork line the walls, demonstrating the cultural accomplishments of the world's superpowers.

In the middle of this room sits a large world map, covered in figurines and drawings showing military movements, trade routes, and national boundaries. This map becomes the centerpiece of interest, a luring Jumanji puzzle where the journey doesn't end until the game does.

So the map!

From first glance, it looks like a poster with a little clamp on the end. But really, it's a robot in disguise!

The map is backed with sheet metal. That makes the map board magnetic. Before using just any metal, check if it is magnetic! Bring a magnet with you.

The middle layer is a printed sheet of paper. We generated a random map (actually, a bunch!), edited the image, and had it printed at a local shop.

Finally, the top level is a sheet of plastic. The plastic preserves the map and prevents tears. It also doubles as a dry-erase surface for when we draw our national boundaries and trade routes!

We attached little disc magnets to plastic toys. We used glue, but we're still searching for the right one. These magnets are so powerful, every once in a while they'll launch a piece at another if they're facing the right (wrong?) way on the ground.

Our world leaders are then ready to sail off into the unknown. 

And so the game is played, and at the end of each busy day, the map changes to reflect the decisions the kids made.

Because that's just what happens when kids rule the world.